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Respiratory Health
Episode 101st August 2022 • AgriSafe Talking Total Farmer Health • AgriSafe
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Script Arranged by Laura Siegel

Hosted by Carey Portell

Edited by Joel Sharpton

Special Guests: Charlotte Halverson

Transcripts

Carey:

Welcome to the Talking Total Farmer Health podcast from AgriSafe Network. At AgriSafe, we work to protect the people that feed the world by supporting the health and safety professionals, ensuring access to preventative services for farm families and the agriculture community.

Carey:

All right, everyone. Today we are so excited. We have miss Charlotte here to talk to us about respiratory protection on the talking total fromer health podcast. We welcome you, Miss Charlotte. Can you give us a little bit about your background and how you became so knowledgeable in respiratory protection?

Charlotte:

Well, certainly I would start off by saying it's always a learning process and every day there's something new to learn. I got into this field through my work in a hospital. I went into nursing and the typical program and wound up working in my favorite area in health care for a long time was emergency services and trauma care. And in that realm, I saw all kinds of things coming in from our agricultural community as far as injuries, acute and chronic health pieces. That really taught me that farmers and ranchers really don't have a health and safety advocate like a lot of big businesses do. And there were some incidents happen that I said, okay, somebody's got to do something about it. And that's kind of where the story started. And then I segued into community health and learned about the programs that are available for agricultural health and safety and jumped in to that. And here I am.

Carey:

And you're currently working as a specialist with respiratory protection with aggressive. Is that correct?

Charlotte:

Right. I have been working with. It started out obviously in the hospital and then helped develop the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety and Health. And from there, wound up working closely with Agassi for a lot of years and respiratory health just being one piece of what we did and what we continue to do. And it will always be a passion of mine, largely because I saw what happened with family members that had all these acute exposures of when I was living and growing up on a farm.

Carey:

Okay. Since we are talking about agriculture, what are some of the respiratory hazards within the agriculture community?

Charlotte:

That's a big question and there are a lot of them because agriculture is really a multifaceted industry and the exposures and hazards are as well. And these include there's opportunities for all kinds of discomfort and damage to our respiratory system. But the big list probably are the ones that come to mind. First would be chemicals and pesticides and the dust that has so many risks involved in it and the mold that you find in things like hay bales and these closed spaces, grain bins, storage, other storage areas, confined animals, all of that.

Carey:

So the hazards, some of the hazards that you just listed, why are they considered so dangerous to our health? What are they doing to our bodies that we need to take note of?

Charlotte:

Well, I think probably the one that we probably want to focus on most right now would be the dust that's out there and the dust that is in these confined spaces and in grain bins and all of those kinds of areas. And there's two big reasons why they are considered so dangerous. Number one, being a lot of the dust in the agriculture environment is organic. In other words, it carries particles and particulate matter that's created by something that was living at one point in time anyway. And organic dust carries mold, it carries insects, it carries those little pieces of insects. It contains animal blood, urine, fecal material, chemical residues, all kinds of crazy toxins. So that's one of the reasons. The other being organic dust is very, very small. A dust particle can be about about a 10th the size maybe of a width of a hair strand. So that's so tiny. And it gets down really deep in those little bitty air sacs in our lungs. The term for those is alveoli, but that's where the important gas exchange is. When you take a breath in and put a breath out, that's where that exchange actually takes place. We call that respirable dust. But it's a term simply that means that we can't sneeze it out, cough it out, that sort of thing. So it kind of lodges down in there and can create all kinds of nasty things, infections and irritability and inflammation. The result of that can be acute respiratory infections or even worse, leading to the chronic long term disease process like asthma, emphysema, those kinds of things that can really, really impair your quality of life. And it really affects your ability to ranch your farm. And that impacts the bottom line is thats your bottom line. And that's probably where our ranchers and farmers look the most is how is it impacting my bottom line?

Carey:

Yeah. I'm sitting here thinking that my normal thoughts about dust is I just think about it being dirt, but it's really kind of gross to think about everything that is comprised, what it's comprised of, isn't it?

Charlotte:

There's there's just all kinds of nasty little things in there that you don't really see, but you can feel the impact of it after a while.

Carey:

Yeah, definitely. I know that you are really, really big into protecting yourself from this. So how can the farmers protect themselves when they're working in this environment?

Charlotte:

Well, that's a that's a loaded question, partly because ideally avoiding the respiratory hazard entirely is the way to go. But that's not a very realistic approach in the world of agriculture, as you well know, Kerry, you live right in the middle of it and work in it. So sometimes modifying that environment can be kind of a helpful alternative, looking at things like ventilation. What's the process used when you're moving livestock? How are you handling bedding, moving manure, cleaning facilities, handling grain? So that's one way to look at it. It's just a really a big challenge. But I think one of the biggest challenges is in those enclosed and confined environments, whether that be grain storage facility or animal housing. But the reality is, is there just so many exposures that that you can't alter, that you've got to work in? And so wearing protective equipment is kind of that last resort and the one that is most frequently seen and in the world of agriculture. So that that's kind of the starting point is how to protect ourselves is finding finding the best way to protect our respiratory systems, what we're working.

Carey:

Wow, I completely agree. Alright, we will be right back after this quick break!

Carey:

On Talking Total Farmer Health, we talk about the health and safety of the people who feed the world. Do you want to hear more from us? Join us for National Farm Safety and Health Week! September 19th through the 23rd. We’ll tackle some of the most common health and safety issues in agriculture. In our webinar series you’ll hear experts on mental health, roadway safety, heat and smoke protection, confined space grain bin entry, sexual harassment, and much more. Register now by visiting our website www dot agrisafe dot org slash nfshw. That’s www dot agrisafe dot org slash nfshw. Check out the show notes for the link.

Carey:

If a farmer is going to go out either ordering a mask online or you actually find a store that they they can put one on, how can they determine what's the right protective mask for them in their environment?

Charlotte:

That's really a challenge. And and it's a it's a challenge in agriculture in particular, because for the most part, people working in agriculture are not part of a a large business or an industry where you've got somebody that has a lot of background in that area kind of walk you through it. And so it's it we know that the respiratory protective equipment comes in dozens of designs, and it can be a real process trying to figure out what that best protection for the job is. Our our mantra kind of is the right fit for the right mask and the right job. But it isn't a world for one size fits all carry. And that kind of is the real stumbling block, because our good protection has to fit snugly. It has to seal well on your face. So things like facial hair is a real impairment. It doesn't seal well. So telling our our farmers and ranchers with their their beards and even two days growth can really impact how that seal. So and the other thing is facial sizes and structures very fine boned young woman who weighs 108 pounds versus somebody that's six foot three and weighs 225 is a whole different ball game so that they're not going to fit this thing. So the base that we begin with is kind of, first of all, looking that we're looking for something that is NIOSH approved. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has done a lot of work in research and assessment and rating these protective equipment pieces.

Charlotte:

So that's kind of where you start. And there's a little logo that NIOSH has that stamped on every package and on every piece of respiratory protection. So that would be the first thing to look for. And those little masks that have one little strap on and they're pretty thin, they just don't cut it. They're just not made for respiratory protection. In fact, I'll tell you that on the package. So the base that you look for would be something that has the two straps on it. We call them big term for it's filtering face pieces, usually term a mask. You kind of go from there and they're the ones that we look at that are kind of disposable and reusable. And they will have the two straps, the one that goes over the top of your head and one around the base below your ears, around the back of your head. And sometimes folks will be looking more for those half face respirators, the ones that have the cartridges or those pancake filters that you see in the stores. And actually, those are a lot of our grain bin workers are people that are doing power washing. Kind of prefer those. But it's really important to know, you know, how to make sure it fits correctly. Now, people that come under OSHA regulations, those of you that maybe have more than ten employees, you have to have things called a respirator program. But for the majority of people in agriculture, that isn't isn't the case.

Charlotte:

So you kind of have to figure out how am I going to make this thing fit? And and for some folks, it's none of those things are really going to work well. They'll want to wear maybe a full face protection. You've probably seen the mask that you have the shield across your eyes and their face and then the cartridges. And so some folks like those. And so how to figure that out is is a real, real struggle. And we do have some of our people in agriculture that can't wear any of that stuff for different reasons. Maybe they've had an injury to their face that their bone structure has changed, or maybe they are really claustrophobic. So there's this thing called a papr powered air purifying respirator, and you've probably seen them carry with the hood. Everything is in a hood and there's a little power pack that you wear. So first of all, I think is trying to decide exactly what is going to work. What's going to work. If you have high blood pressure, hypertension, you need to be checking with your physician, with your your health care provider to make sure that you can wear some respiratory protection. And then there's that alphabet soup. Though we kind of refer to and we're looking at respiratory protection. I think everybody's become familiar with the term in 95 since we've all been working with COVID the last few years N95. Bare Bones is the very base of the very basic protection that we would recommend.

Charlotte:

And and that's all part of that alphabet soup. But 95 would mean that it protects against 95% of those harmful particles out there if it's if it's fitting properly. But then the end part of it is probably a little harder to understand and means that it's a great protection. But if you're working around stuff with oil, some of those sprays, some of the things you put on grain aerosols, then you really don't have that much protection with the in something that is marked with the P that you've seen out there and it has a 100 on it, that's really the the highest level of protection. P Meaning that it is protecting against oil residues 100 meaning it's almost like a HEPA filter that it will it will block 99.7% of those particulate that are in the air. And we see a lot of those actually in our grain bins. And that's why it takes a while to learn. You have to really read. You've got to decide. Talk to somebody that knows what this protection is all about and who is that? Well, it could be somebody in your extension service. It could be somebody in a local hospital. It may be somebody our membership groups in our communities, our agriculture membership groups oftentimes have people that understand that. But it's working through that alphabet soup and. It just takes a while. So bottom line is N95 is minimal protection and it kind of goes up the elevator, if you will, from there.

Carey:

Now farmers are always looking at cost, especially if they want to get some of these masks for their entire crew. Where can they find the proper protective equipment at the best cost?

Charlotte:

Well, what we tell folks, because we realize that a lot of our people in agriculture are not. 10 minutes from somebody that really has all the background in that. So what we can best recommend is really looking at, first of all, what are your needs, what are your exposures, what are you exposed to, your family members, the folks that work for you? And and then looking at how does that impact, again, your bottom line? Minimal approved protection is going to run probably about a buck 50. That's the the little disposable mask that has the two straps on it. And it's very good protection. And that is probably about where your price point would start. And it goes up from there, depending upon the structure of the mass, depending upon the types of straps. Is there a little exhalation of that little button in the front that you kind of breathe out there, a little button in the front or the side? Some of those have those. They all impact the cost of it. Your have face respirators and the filters or cartridges. A unit like that will probably start at about $40, 40 to $50. But there's there's a lot of opportunity to reuse. And they just they last longer. Full face protection is a little bit higher. And then you get into the what we call the PAPRs, the powered air, purify, respirators, those hoods, they're really expensive. They can run anywhere from 800 to 15 to 1700 dollars a unit. So they're they're pricey. But that may be the answer. That may be what keeps you in agriculture. So, first of all, we say check out your local farm supply store.

Charlotte:

Oftentimes, they have somebody there that really understands what your needs are and can help you go through the process of figuring out what is the best thing to use. And there are a lot of online services now that are providing respiratory protection, but also the literature and and the information to go along with it. I know our rural emergency service providers sometimes have people that are really knowledgeable about that. Our extension service folks sometimes have folks on staff that can really work with you. The same folks have all kinds of of resources available. You can certainly call them call that their online number, and they'll get you to somebody that can walk you through it on the phone. We always encourage that when you do get into wearing a respirator, that you have it tested to make sure that it's feeding properly with no leaks there. There are the other folks that have folks on staff or folks that can kind of help you are the knowledge centers. There are 11 of them across the country. I know here in the Midwest, we're really lucky to be close to the one through the University of Iowa, University of Minnesota, University of Nebraska. They have resources. They have folks that can really talk you through things or put you in touch with somebody in your local area that can help you learn how to put these on properly. And what is the proper mask for the proper work to keep your folks that are working for you protected, your family protected and yourself protected.

Carey:

I feel you have given our audience just a wealth of information on respiratory protection. Is there anything else that you would like to add that we didn't talk about that you might feel would be super beneficial for our audience?

Charlotte:

I just think really taking a look at what your exposures are and making a bit of a commitment to get and use good respiratory protection. I said years ago when I got into the business of agricultural safety and health and started looking at business that, you know, I'm not going to retire until I can go into the local little breakfast shop and not see our guys sitting in there with their shoulder strap oxygen tanks because of their emphysema and all other chronic illnesses. And unfortunately, we're still seeing it, but I am happy to say not as much. And I'm really proud of our of our younger farmers and their families that are stepping up to the plate and saying, this is the way we need to do things. We understand that finding good respiratory protection is a real process and it is really gets to be muddled. But there are folks that can help you with that. So please get a hold of those folks. Call the folks that are safe or your extension folks and say, hey, you know, what do I do?

Carey:

Yeah. I believe education is the key in any industry and, you know, prevent it before it actually gets here because then you really pay the big price. Charlotte, we really thank you for being a guest on the Talking Total Farmer Health podcast today. We really enjoyed everything that you had to offer and we hope you have a wonderful retirement.

Charlotte:

Well, I'm working on it and I wish everybody out there safe practices, safe harvest, safe planting, whatever time of the season this is. Just take care of yourselves. You are the backbone of this country, folks. And we really need you. And we need you healthy.

Carey:

Sounds wonderful. All right, everybody, we'll thank you again for tuning in to another episode. Be sure to subscribe to this podcast to hear more from AgriSafe on the health and safety issues impacting agricultural workers. To see more from AgriSafe, including webinars and our newsletter, visit w w w dot agrisafe dot org. This episode was created by AgriSafe Network. Script arranged by Laura Siegel, hosted by Carey Portell, edited by Joel Sharpton, with special guest Charlotte Halverson.